Northern Ireland news

Former DUP spad Tim Cairns insists there is no heave against Arlene Foster

Sammy Wilson has made remarks recently that seemingly undermine Arlene Foster's leadership. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A FORMER senior DUP adviser has insisted there is no challenge to Arlene Foster's leadership.

Tim Cairns, who previously worked as a special adviser in the office of the first minister, said he had heard nothing that suggested a heave was afoot against the DUP leader.

In recent days, two of the party's MPs have spoken out against restrictions imposed by the Stormont executive to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Ian Paisley, whose North Antrim constituency includes areas where fresh restrictions have been introduced, said he was "completely dissatisfied" and "very disappointed" by the new rules.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson yesterday claimed Mrs Foster had reined in health department "technocrats" who wanted to take more severe measures.

He alleged that Health Minister Robin Swann and others had pressed for more extensive restrictions during Thursday's executive meeting.

Former DUP special adviser Tim Cairns insists there is no heave against Arlene Foster

Mr Wilson told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme: "If the technocrats in the Department of Health and if some of the ministers in the Executive had had their way these restrictions would be far more severe and many businesses would be experiencing far, far greater difficulties as a result of them."

The DUP's chief whip at Westminster added: "Other ministers wanted far, far more widespread restrictions and those were opposed by our party, and quite rightly so."

His intervention was the latest of a series of remarks which seemingly contradict the public health message being communicated by the DUP leader and other Stormont ministers.

Mr Swann dismissed Mr Wilson's claim as "bogus".

"In light to what is being alleged this morning, I am not going to breach the confidentiality of executive discussions to comment on ill-informed and bogus claims," he said.

An SDLP spokesman said the East Antrim MP's remarks had "no basis in reality".

"The SDLP has argued for clarification of the restrictions, not further restrictions," the spokesman said.

"The DUP should explain why one of its MPs is relating false reports from executive meetings."

Mr Wilson's outbursts have prompted speculation that there is widespread dissatisfaction with Mrs Foster's leadership and that the Westminster chief whip may be mounting a challenge.

But according to Mr Cairns, who said he is in regular contact with the DUP representatives, the East Antrim MP's comments "are just Sammy being Sammy".

"I get no sense that there's any sort of leadership battle or challenge to Arlene Foster's authority," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback.

"I'm just not hearing anybody who's saying that – not even a behind the hand whisper saying 'There's manoeuvres afoot'."

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